Why are there varying translations for Spanish words?

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I was taking a school Spanish program and some of the words that I was taught for a certain Spanish word differ from those presented in the SpanishDict lessons. For example, I was taught that "old" was "vieja" while on SpanishDict, they taught that "mayor" was the Spanish word. How will I ever know which word is the correct Spanish translation? Are both (or more) different translations of words used by native Spanish speakers? If so, how will I know which word(s) to use when I am writing or speaking Spanish? Any and all input is appreciated.

1663 views
updated ENE 5, 2009
posted by jessica9

5 Answers

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Thank you to all for your replies, I found them very helpful. So, I guess it's just a matter of learning the language well enough to be able to determine usage. Thank you again to everyone who took the time to offer their answers.

updated ENE 5, 2009
posted by jessica9
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There isn't any word in Spanish like "major". Remember that the "J" sounds like a hard English H.
"Viejo/a" is like old, and this word has many negative connotations, like worn out, wrinkled, damaged, faded...
"Mayor" is a word with more positive connotations, like larger, more important, superior,...

updated ENE 3, 2009
posted by lazarus1907
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There are a couple of answers to this:
- firstly, there are very few words where there is always exactly one translation meaning precisely the same thing; when you start learning the language, you'll probably start off with some simple lists of words that are common translations of one another; part of learning the language more deeply is then to start to get a feeling for which particular translation is used in which particular circumstance, or with which particular nuance/connotation
- there's no fixed list of "THE" translations of words mystically handed down by God: every bilingual dictionary, every phrasebook, every vocabulary list, every language textbook etc is the work of individual human beings and their individual opinions and experiences; you always need to keep a critical eye on such material and try to judge when it tallies and when it doesn't tally with other language input such as usage you see on the Internet, when talking with Spanish-speaking friends etc.

updated ENE 3, 2009
posted by Neil-Coffey
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mayor is the polite way word for old person
In English an older person could be called senior

mayor also means más grande ..... la mayor parte... greater part
mayor in Sapnish as in English could be a military field officer, above the rank of Captain

Experience will tell you what word to use.
At any rate translation is almost an art, except when translating works of science or legal papers. That why is always better to read lliterature in its original languange Other words for old person are, anciano, reliquia. vejestorio there are probably more words that mean old people. Studiying a language is fun because of its diversity.

updated ENE 3, 2009
posted by 00769608
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You were taught correclty - vieja / viejo does mean old. "mayor", although related, does not mean old, but (among other things) "older".

In general, however, you're going to tun into MANY cases where actually IS more than one word that means roughly the same thing. That's true in English as well.

updated ENE 2, 2009
posted by George-Hunt